Shaking things up at the start of the second Leipzig cycle

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Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch, created between 1482 and 1516. Flames, as mentioned in the tenor aria, everywhere on the middle and right panel, “Posaunen” (trumpets) in the middle panel, as mentioned in the bass aria, and God hovering above the clouds (left panel, at top) as mentioned in the chorale at the end of Part I : “So lang ein Gott im Himmel lebt und über alle Wolken schwebt.”

On this First Sunday after Trinity (or “Trinity 1” for short) in 1724, Bach started his second cycle of cantatas in Leipzig.* He was well aware of the importance of this occasion, and wrote one of his most dramatic cantatas for this day: cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort. The cantata features a wealth of opera-style writing for the soloists, and such a stately French overture, that one wonders if the use of this style was ironic: see, if you behave in this rich, arrogant way, things will end horribly for you. A lesson like this would be fitting for this cantata, because the Gospel  reading for this Trinity 1 Sunday was that of Lazarus and Dives: The poor leper Lazarus lies in front of the rich man Dives’ house, asking him for food every day. Dives ends up in hell when he dies because he didn’t share his blessings/wealth with those in need.

Over the course of writing this blog, whenever a cantata contains significant operatic writing, I tend to give the prize for best recording/interpretation to Gardiner, because he and Harnoncourt seem to be the only ones not shy to “overdo” it in these cases. This time it is no different. I especially love Paul Agnew in the tenor aria and Wilke te Brummelstoete and Paul Agnew together in the duet, where they illustrate the “chattering of teeth” perfectly.  Bass Dietrich Henschel does a good job too, though I’m not sure I prefer him over Peter Kooy on the Herreweghe recording. Listen to Gardiner’s recording of cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort : nos 22-32 of this playlist on YouTube

Find the text here, and the score here.

Bach marked this “second beginning” in Leipzig in several different ways, for himself as well as for others:

 

First of all,  on this Sunday he starts an entire series of new** cantatas, which we now call his chorale cantatas. For nine and a half months, including the entire Christmas season, he would write every cantata according to this same template: the opening movement is a chorale fantasia on the first stanza of an existing Lutheran hymn or chorale, with the tune appearing as a cantus firmus. The last movement has the last stanza of the same hymn as text, in a four-part harmonization of the tune. The text of those choral, outer movements was used verbatim, while the text of the solo, inner movements was paraphrased, but still based on the inner stanzas of the same hymn.

If you believe in the theory that Bach lost his soprano soloist sometime in the spring of 1724, and was having trouble training a new one, this concept of a chorale cantata would have been a brilliant move to solve this problem. This way, Bach still presented a series of impressive cantatas (arguably more impressive than his 1723/1724 cycle), while limiting the rehearsal hours needed with the choir boys. In many of these cantatas, as is the case for today’s cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, the choir boys would only have to sing the chorale melody in the opening chorus, and there would be no soprano recitative or aria among the inner movements at all. If in later cantatas in this series the boys would get assigned something a bit more complicated, it would still be based on the chorale melody they already knew by heart, so it would require much less rehearsal time with them.

As if with this dramatic cantata 20 Bach didn’t already make enough of a splash, he most probably intended for the first four chorale cantatas of this 1724 Trinity season to form a set, or at least to present some kind of order,  if you look at the composition form of the opening movement, and which voice has the cantus firmus of the chorale tune in that chorus:

  1. Cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort: French Overture, with cantus firmus in the soprano
  2. Cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein: Chorale motet, cantus firmus in alto.
  3. Cantata 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam: Italian concerto, cantus firmus in tenor.
  4. Cantata 135 : Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder: Chorale fantasia, cantus firmus in bass.

We know that Bach liked to use order and symmetry when he wanted to impress other people with a composition. But perhaps he was also thinking of his legacy. When he started composing cantatas at the Weimar court in 1714, albeit on a monthly instead of weekly basis, his first four cantatas formed a similar portfolio of composition styles in the opening choral movements:

  1. Cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen: Choral fugue
  2. Cantata 12 Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen: Passacaglia
  3. Cantata 172 Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!: Concerto
  4. Cantata 21 Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis: Motet.

This symmetry with his Weimar days must have been lost on others, even his fellow musicians, since they heard all these Weimar cantatas in Leipzig over the course of the 1723/1724 cycle, but not in this order they were created in Weimar.

In today’s cantata, cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, there are more links to other compositions nobody or only a few fans would have noticed: In the music as well as the text, Bach makes some pretty strong references to the first and the last cantata of the 1723 Trinity season. References to the first one (cantata 75, discussed here on this blog) appear in the decision to go back to this long, two-part format, the use of the trumpet as symbol for the heavens, and the illustration in the music of the word “Flammen” (flames). References to the last one (cantata 70, discussed here on this blog) present themselves in the selection of the chorale that talks about the Day of Judgement, and the operatic writing for the soloists, especially the bass and tenor.

After having followed Bach’s weekly compositions during the Trinity season of 1723, I feel it could be interesting to see this cantata 20, the first of the 1724 Trinity season, as the immediate successor of cantata 70, the last of the 1723 Trinity season. I realize that by doing so, I would ignore a few gems from early 1724, and an entire St. John Passion, but I do believe that as educator of his fellow Lutherans, Bach found Trinity season the most important part of the church year, and perhaps sometimes in his mind indeed ignored all the other stuff in between.

During the Trinity season, the theology moves away from the stories about the life of Christ, and instead focuses on the Lutheran doctrine, how one behaves before God, and on doing good deeds. So with this cantata, and the series that was to come, I think Bach wanted to make sure the Leipzig congregations were fully aware that the Trinity season was starting. The text “Wacht auf, wacht auf” (Wake up, wake up!) in the bass aria is testament to this, but also the writing of the opening chorus and the alto-tenor duet: it all makes you sit up and pay attention.

Wieneke Gorter, June 19, 2017.

*Bach had made his Leipzig debut on Trinity 1, 1723, with cantata 75 Die Elenden sollen essen. Read more about that fabulous cantata in this blog post.

**During this period, there will be no repeats of existing cantatas at all. It is stunning to realize that Bach made this huge commitment to himself, knowing how often during the 1723/1724 cycle he “recycled” music from Köthen and cantatas from Weimar.

Back to the books for Trinity Sunday in 1724

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part of my new office space, with a space for my mom, and a space for my books 🙂

I did not write about Pentecost last week, even though in Bach’s time this was a three-day holiday with a cantata on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. And I am late with this Trinity post. Even her in California it is not Sunday anymore. However, it is all for a good reason …

Over the last couple of months I started missing my Bach books (which were scattered all over the house and which I sometimes did not even read anymore) and yearned for a space in my house that’s dedicated to my blog. So, after some visits to the local hardware store and the Swedish furniture store (always a little bit like going home for me) and a lot of help from my wonderful family,  I now have a streamlined, quiet looking office, where I can look out of a window while I sit at the computer, and where I have the Bach books right by my side.

And how happy I was to go back to the books, the real research, instead of relying mostly on websites for my information. In my reading for Trinity Sunday in 1724, I discovered a very interesting new fact, something I wished I had known in October 2016.

I won’t beat myself up about it, since I still vividly remember October 2016 as my busiest month of the last five years, so I’ll forgive myself that I brought you a bit of fake news:  I stated in this post that Bach didn’t write a cantata for Trinity 23 in 1724 because it was Reformation Day, October 31. If I had checked the “chronology” chapter in “The New Bach Reader” by David, Mendel, and Wolff, I would have seen that in that week in 1723, Bach went to inspect a new organ in the nearby town of Strömthal. He wrote a 12-movement-long cantata for the dedication of the new organ and the new church building in that village on November 2, 1723: cantata 194 Höcherwunschtes Freudenfest.

He repeated this cantata on Trinity Sunday 1724, though perhaps not in its entirety. Gardiner suggests Bach performed only the first six movements instead of all twelve in Leipzig, but I can’t find any explanation for this anywhere, so I’ll need to do more research on that subject, or, who knows, ask Gardiner? Would he email me back?

Listen to the opening chorus and the soprano aria from cantata 194 Höcherwunschtes Freudenfest by Bach Collegium Japan on YouTube, with soprano Yukari Nonoshita.

Find the German text with English translations here, and the score here.

When listening to this music, two things might jumped out at me:

  1. This cantata, especially the opening chorus, sounds more like court music than church music. This is because Bach based the music for the Strömthal cantata on music he wrote for the court of Anhalt-Köthen where he worked from 1716 to 1723.
  2. In the opening chorus, the sopranos go up to a high C, which happens only in one other Bach cantata: BWV 151 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen. Based on instructions Bach wrote in the string parts for the players in Leipzig, scholars think that the organ as well as the oboes in Strömthal must have been tuned to “tiefer Cammerton” (A=390). Gardiner writes that this posed a “huge problem” for his performances of this cantata in 2000, and says they were obliged to transpose all the parts down, and he wonders why Bach had not done the same for his Leipzig revivals. The way some of Gardiner’s colleagues solve this problem with regards to the beautiful but extremely high bass aria, is to contract a famous baritone for this occasion, as on this recording of Harnoncourt with Thomas Hampson.

If indeed only the first half of this cantata was performed on Trinity Sunday in 1724, Bach would have added cantata 165 O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, which bears a much stronger relation to the Gospel of the day: Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, stating that only those who are reborn through water baptism and the Spirit (or Holy Ghost) can reach eternal life. (Find the text of that part of the Gospel of John here).

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Jesus and Nicodemus, by Dutch painter Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (1601-1645)

This cantata 165 was not a new composition either: Bach wrote it in Weimar in 1715. It is not completely certain that this cantata was also performed on Trinity Sunday in 1724, but most sources mention it and it is an interesting cantata with pretty arias and good word painting in the music, so I decided to include it here.

No recording of this cantata was satisfying to me in all the movements, so I made a playlist on YouTube with the soprano, alto, and tenor from the Gardiner recording (Ruth Holton, Daniel Taylor, Paul Agnew), and the bass from the Leonhardt recording (Max van Egmond). The opening aria is extremely hard and Ruth Holton does the best job of all recordings I listened to.

Find the text of cantata 165 O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad here, and the score here.

Listen for:

  • the river in the soprano aria;
  • the dark harmonies in the first bass recitative, illustrating the words sündig (sinful), Tod (death), and Verderben (destruction);
  • the steadfastness (including a steadily moving river?) in the alto aria;
  • the dramatic ending of the second bass recitative: on the words “wenn alle Kraft vergeht”  (when all my strength fails) the bass part reaches its lowest note, Bach tells the violins to play piano, the keyboard player to not play any chords, and on the final note the strings have nothing, there is only one note of the continuo left;
  • the healing snake in the tenor aria (in the strings), noting that in the preceding bass recitative, we have learned that the “old” snake (the venomous one/the one who seduced Eve) has turned into a new,  healing snake.

Wieneke Gorter, June 11, 2017.

*Bach started working in Leipzig on the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723.

The soprano student finally ready, or a good one visiting?

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Boys of the St. Thomas school on their way to St. Thomas church, 1723.

In last week’s post, I pointed out that Bach might have lost his soprano soloist this spring of 1724. There might not have been a boy in his choir good enough to sing complicated solo arias. Or perhaps there was a boy who had a good voice, but who needed several weeks of coaching by the maestro before he was ready to sing an aria. Because during this spring semester of 1724 in Leipzig, Bach’s cantatas featured a soprano aria (not counting solos consisting of only a chorale tune) only every 3-4 weeks.

Some writers suggest Bach might have been training a new soprano in the weeks between Easter and Pentecost of 1724, so this boy would be able to sing the aria for this Sunday (Exaudi, or the Sunday after Ascension) and the arias in the upcoming Pentecost cantatas. I myself think that Bach’s problems with the boys of the school might have persisted for the long-term, but that he had a temporary solution for these few weeks. What if  one of the boys who had moved away earlier in the year would be back temporarily, visiting Leipzig with his family for the Pentecost holiday –a three-day holiday in Leipzig, as important for the church as Easter and Christmas? Or perhaps Bach knew that one of the extra oboists or trumpet players would be bringing his talented son with him? After all, as I’ve come to believe over the course of doing research for this blog, it is likely that musician friends and musician relatives visited Leipzig for two weeks or longer around the time of major holidays.

Whatever the background story, on this Sunday in 1724 there was finally a glorious soprano aria in the churches again, a favorite from my childhood. I wrote about it last year in this post.

Wieneke Gorter, May 27, 2017

A better week for cantata 198 than for 86

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 Rosa centifolia ‘Major’, dated as far back as the 16th century in the Netherlands. Courtesy of http://rudolfshistorischer-rosen-park.blogspot.com/ , a website I found when looking for roses that would have existed in Germany in Bach’s time

 

This week I don’t feel a lot of connection with the Bach cantata from 1724 for this Sunday, cantata 86 Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch. When I came home from the funeral of one friend, I learned that another friend had passed away suddenly the day before. Because these were both very strong, kind, beautiful, and inspiring women, and I can’t believe they are gone, I feel much more inclined to listen to cantata 198, Lass, Fürstin, Lass nun einen Strahl, which Bach wrote for the funeral of a well-loved Queen than to a cantata which promotes that “God always knows best.”

But I’ll still write about cantata 86. The only connection I have with it this week are the roses in the text of  the alto aria. It is my favorite movement of this cantata, because of the splendid violin solo. The interpretation of that violin solo I like best of all the recordings I listened to* is the one by Kati Debretzeni on the Gardiner recording. Listen to this recording on YouTube here, and read more about violinist Kati Debretzeni here. Soloists on the Gardiner recording are Katharine Fuge, soprano; Robin Tyson, counter-tenor; Steve Davisilim, tenor; and Stephan Loges, bass.

For better interpretations of the bass and tenor solos, I recommend listening to the Koopman recording on YouTube, with tenor Christoph Prégardien and bass Klaus Mertens.

For the text and translations of cantata 86, please visit this page, and for the score, please go here.

Why the connection with roses? About one week ago, on Friday May 12, I went to drop off a card for a friend who was dying. I learned she was in her last days on Tuesday, but it took me until Friday morning to find the right words, finish writing the card, and to drop it off. When I walked to her door I noticed a hedge of sweet pink roses in the front yard. I felt peace from seeing the roses, and from the knowledge that she liked roses, but I also felt miserable and angry that she would be taken away from all this, from her family, her life, her home. The next day, we heard she passed away during that night.

This past Friday was the day of her funeral. I didn’t know how it would go, how my kids would handle it (my oldest and her oldest are friends), and tried to find some strength for myself, so I would be able to be there for them. I realized that I associate this woman’s kindness and warmth with the pinkish apricot color of my favorite rose in the Berkeley rose garden, Westerland. So I decided to walk through the rose garden to experience the color and scent of this amazing flower, and it helped. This is what she looked like that day: Westerland

What to listen for in cantata 86:

In the opening movement, notice how Bach accentuates the fact that Jesus is speaking important, timeless words by setting these words in the form of an archaic motet. While the motet has multiple voices, the way it was done in the Renaissance, Bach can still make it clear that the words come from Christ’s mouth only, by giving all the other “voice parts” to instruments instead of to other singers.

In the alto aria, hear how the words “brechen” (to pick [roses]) and “stechen” (to prick) are illustrated by short notes and “broken” chords in the voice part, and broken chords in the violin part.

In the soprano aria, hear how low in the soprano range this is set — it could just as well have been sung by an alto. Bach has not given significant solos to a soprano since Easter of this year, 1724, and actually pretty sporadically since the start of the new year. Many scholars suggest that during that spring of 1724, Bach might have lost his boy soprano soloist (due to him leaving the school or due to his voice changing, we don’t know), and documents suggest that he was frustrated with the low quality of the boy sopranos of the St. Thomas School in general. They believe that this is why he started the chorale cantatas (cantatas of which each movement is based on a different verse of one and the same chorale tune) after Pentecost of that year. Keep following this blog and you’ll learn more about that soon 🙂

Wieneke Gorter, May 21, 2017

*I did all this listening last year, when I actually ended up writing about cantata 87, the one Bach wrote for this same Sunday, but then in 1725. Read that post here.

“Cantate” Sunday – or the fourth Sunday after Easter, 1724

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Interior of the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) in Leipzig.

For “Cantate” Sunday, or the fourth Sunday after Easter in 1724, Bach wrote a short but masterful cantata: BWV 166 Wo gehest du hin? I wrote a long but educational and hopefully also entertaining post about this cantata last year. I explain how Bach illustrates that this is the “singing” Sunday, why there is so much talk of “going away” in this cantata, and why I recommend the recording by Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Read that post here.

Wieneke Gorter, May 12, 2017

Third Sunday after Easter in 1724

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For this Jubilate Sunday (the third Sunday after Easter) in 1724, Bach did not write a new cantata the way he had done the previous two weeks*, but repeated one he had written in Weimar in 1714. That cantata: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen was not any old cantata, but a composition Bach was most probably very proud of: he would later use the opening chorus as template for the Crucifixus in his Mass in B minor. Read all about this cantata and the recordings I recommend in this post I wrote last year.

Wieneke Gorter, May 7, 2017

*see this post about the first Sunday after Easter in 1724 and this one about the second Sunday after Easter in 1724

Second Sunday after Easter 1724

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Christ the Good Shepherd, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, c. 1660. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

We keep following Bach in 1724. For the second Sunday after Easter of that year, he composed cantata 104 Du Hirte Israel, höre. Of all the recordings I listened to, I prefer the one of Ton Koopman with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, here on YouTube.

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Paul Agnew

My main reason for choosing this recording is tenor Paul Agnew’s fabulous singing. Type his name in the “search” box on this blog and you’ll find more fan mail from me 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

But also: this recording has the best balance among the voice parts in the choir in the opening chorus, and Klaus Mertens presents a bass aria I can actually listen to without getting irritated. Sorry Philippe Huttenlocher (on the Harnoncourt recording), Stephen Varcoe (Gardiner), and Stephan MacLeod (Bach Collegium Japan).

Find the text of this cantata 104 here, and the score here.

This is a very pretty cantata, entirely based on the “good shepherd” theme for this Sunday, using pastoral motifs in the music, oboes in the orchestra, and displaying an innocent character overall, much more so than the more complicated cantata 85 Bach would write for this same Sunday a year later, which I wrote about last year in this post.

Wieneke Gorter, April 30, 2017.

 

 

First Sunday after Easter 1724

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The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, 1601-1602, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany

In the past two weeks I ran out of time to work on this blog because of being sick, performing concerts with California Bach Society, and being on a trial jury for the first time since becoming a United States citizen in 2011. So this post for the First Sunday after Easter in 1724 is post-dated, and short, but contains lots of information to learn more about this beautiful cantata.

Previously in 1724: Bach “premiered” his Passion according to St. John on Good Friday, April 7, 1724. Then he ran out of time and energy and, without too much care for detail and text illustration, created cantatas out of existing music for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday of that year.

This means that the first new composition he wrote after the St. John Passion was this cantata 67 Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ (keep thinking of Jesus Christ), based on the Gospel text of Jesus appearing to his disciples. A famous cantata, already known and admired in the early 19th century, especially because of the dramatic fourth movement for choir and bass, which Bach would later transform into the Gloria of his Missa Brevis in A (BWV 234).

For the background of this cantata I will refer you to the experts, in this 15-minute video by the Netherlands Bach Society, published within their AllofBach series. The video is in Dutch, with English subtitles. It talks about Bach including a flute (not a recorder!) for the first time in a cantata, the meaning behind the text, and the use of the slide-trumpet “corno da tirarsi.”

Listen to and watch their performance here, find the text here, and find the score here. The Netherlands Bach Society, conducted by Jos van Veldhoven, with countertenor Alex Potter, tenor Thomas Hobbs, and bass Peter Kooij.

Wieneke Gorter, April 30, 2017.

A quick fix for Easter Tuesday 1724

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As I explained on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, after his Passion according to St. John, Bach had no time or energy left to write anything new for the three Easter days in 1724. On Easter Sunday he repeated two Easter cantatas from earlier years. On Easter Monday he used existing music from a Birthday cantata from Köthen, didn’t seem to care too much about the music not illustrating the text, perhaps didn’t even write a new score, we don’t know, because the only manuscript that survived is from 1735, not from 1724.

On Easter Tuesday, he used Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht (BWV 134a), a “serenata” for New Year’s Day, also from Köthen. For the Leipzig church cantata, cantata 134 Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend Weiß he didn’t change any music at all, gave the instrumentalists the parts from Köthen, and also used the score from Köthen, writing the new sacred text under the original secular text.

Listening to this cantata is like listening to one of Bach’s instrumental works, because the text and the meaning of the text don’t really matter in this case. Listen to Gustav Leonhardt’s recording of this cantata, with René Jacobs, countertenor, and Marius van Altena, tenor.

Thanks to Eduard van Hengel, it is easy to see side-by-side how the new text compares to the original:

Serenata for New Year’s Day in Köthen 1719
Cantata 134 for Easter Tuesday in Leipzig 1724
1. Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht,
Hat Anhalt manche Segensstunden
Und itzo gleich ein neues Heil gebracht.

2. Auf, Sterbliche, lasset ein Jauchzen ertönen.
[…] Auf, Seelen, ihr müsset ein Opfer bereiten,
Bezahlet dem Höchsten mit Danken die Pflicht.

1. Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß,
Empfindet Jesu neue Güte
Und dichtet nur auf seines Heilands Preis.

2. Auf, Gläubige, singet die lieblichen Lieder.
[…] Auf, Seelen, ihr müsset ein Opfer bereiten,
Bezahlet dem Höchsten mit Danken die Pflicht.

Easter Monday 1724

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Excerpt from the title page of Bach’s manuscript from 1735 of cantata 66 Erfreut euch ihr Herzen. The manuscript from 1724 did not survive.

In Bach’s time there were three Easter days, as there were three Christmas days and three Pentecost days. I wrote yesterday that Bach planned to write four new works between April 10 and 23, 1724, but that is only somewhat true, it depends who you ask …

Gardiner believes that what Bach planned to do after Easter 1724,  was to write cantata 6 for Easter Monday, 42 and 67 for the first Sunday after Easter, and 85 for the second Sunday after Easter, instead of writing 6, 42, and 85 in 1725. As he painstakingly explains in his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,”  Gardiner believes that the work (composing and rehearsing) on the Passion according to St. John must have cost Bach much more time than he thought, and he thus had to adjust his plans.

Following Gardiner’s theory, when Bach realized he had too much on his plate for Easter 1724, including having to write a cantata for Easter Tuesday he might not have planned on, he decided to write parodies (using existing music with some changes, but with different texts) for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday of that year.

For Easter Monday 1724, he wrote cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen. Most of the music of this cantata is based on the secular cantata 66a Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück (Heaven thinks of Anhalt’s Fame and Fortune) , composed by Bach in 1718 to celebrate the 24th birthday of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. If you have 40 minutes, listen to a reconstruction of the entire Birthday cantata 66a from 1718 here, with soprano Gudrun Sidonie Otto, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, tenor Hans Jörg Mammel, and bass Karsten Krüger. If you only have 10 minutes, scroll to 11:17 for the soprano/alto duet with violin.

Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen here. Soloists: alto Kai Wessel, tenor James Taylor, and bass Peter Kooij. I like Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata the best of all I listened to, because to me the tempo of the opening chorus is perfect for me, Collegium Vocale’s singing is fabulous as always, and I enjoy listening to Peter Kooy in the bass aria.

Find the text of cantata 66 here, and the score here.

Since we only have a manuscript of this cantata from 1735, when Bach repeated this cantata in Leipzig, we don’t know for sure what Bach changed in 1724.  However, based on what we know, and comparing the two recordings I present in this post, Bach used the following movements from the Köthen Birthday cantata 66a in the Leipzig church cantata 66: The impressive and very festive opening chorus of 66 is the closing chorus of 66a, the bass aria of 66 is the alto aria of 66a, and the alto-tenor duet (beautifully sung by Kai Wessel and James Taylor) with violin of 66 is the soprano-alto duet with violin from 66a.

Movement 4 and 5 (the recitative and duet for alto and tenor) are written as a dialogue. Whenever Bach uses that technique in his church cantatas, the two characters are usually Jesus and the Soul (see for example cantata 21). In this case, the Happiness of Anhalt (the alto) from 66a has been transformed to Furcht (Fear) in 66, and  Fama (the godess of fame and reputation, soprano in 66a) has been transformed to Hoffnung (Hope, tenor in 66). With these two characters Bach refers to the Gospel reading of the day: two followers of Jesus walk to the town of Emmaus, only a few days after Jesus’ death and burial. They talk about their hope that he was the Messiah, but are at the same time fearful having heard the news that his body has disappeared from the grave.

In the Birthday cantata 66a, the two characters are in agreement, and therefore sing the same notes. However in cantata 66 Furcht and Hoffnung often disagree, even though they are still singing the same notes. Normally Bach would never have let this happen, but perhaps this is an illustration of how quickly he had to work on this cantata for Easter Monday.

Wieneke Gorter, April 17, 2017